Groups Push for Morning-After Pill


Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — The maker of a morning-after pill is about to begin government-sanctioned studies to see if the emergency contraception can sell without a doctor's prescription.

The maker of Plan B morning-after pills hopes the studies of hundreds of women will persuade the Food and Drug Administration to approve over-the-counter sales by next year.

The announcement comes as 60 medical and women's groups file an unusual petition with the FDA Wednesday declaring morning-after pills as safe as aspirin and urging they be sold without a prescription to help women prevent pregnancy.

The American Medical Association supports the change, already made in Britain last month following several other European nations.

Women who are raped, whose regular birth control fails or who simply forget in the heat of the moment can take the so-called morning-after pill up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse.

Opponents, including the Vatican, contend emergency contraception is early abortion, and oppose teen-age access to the pills.

But proponents stress that emergency contraception doesn't cause abortion — if a woman already is pregnant, it won't work.

Taken quickly enough, the pills may prevent fertilization of an egg, said Dr. Paul Blumenthal, a Johns Hopkins University gynecologist and Planned Parenthood adviser. If fertilization already has occurred, the pills prevent an egg from implanting into the uterus, meaning the woman never becomes pregnant.

Two brands of morning-after pills, Preven and Plan B, have sold in the United States by prescription since 1998; special high doses of regular birth control pills work, too.

``It's as safe as any other over-the-counter drug available in the U.S.,'' Blumenthal said. He cites thousands of women who have used emergency contraception without serious side effects; temporary nausea and breast tenderness are typical.

Women's advocates say wider emergency contraception use could prevent 1.7 million unplanned pregnancies and hundreds of thousands of abortions. But they want it sold over the counter because some women haven't been able to obtain a prescription in time.

The maker of Plan B is about to start FDA-sanctioned studies in Washington state and California that it hopes will lead to approval of nonprescription pills next year.

Women's Capitol Corp. of Bellevue, Wash., will test 450 women allowed to get Plan B without a prescription from specially designated Washington pharmacies, to see if they use the pills properly and how many get pregnant, said company president Sharon Camp.

Also, a University of California, San Francisco, outpatient clinic will test 1,000 young and low-income women to see if keeping packets of Plan B at home in case of emergency works, or if easy access has a down side such as persuading women to drop regular contraception, Camp said.

Camp said she hopes Wednesday's petition shows ``the FDA and the Bush administration that ... this action would be welcomed by the majority of the public health community.''

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On the Net:

Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, http://www.crlp.org

AMA: http://www.ama-assn.org

Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org

National Right to Life: http://www.nrlc.org